PERRYVILLE — Toward the end of Northern Chesapeake Symphony Orchestra’s debut concert on Nov. 22, the director, C. Nelson Fritts Jr., stood on the Perryville High School auditorium stage and complimented his performers.
“They are remarkable musicians,” Fritts told the audience, before referring to the eight compositions performed thus far and commenting, “They have embraced this music and have been very compassionate about it.”
Remarkable and compassionate, indeed.
Comprised of 23 musicians ranging from 13 to 71 in age, the orchestra performed an array of pieces – some serene and reflective, others rhythmic and festive – during the free concert, which lasted about an hour.
The compositions included “Sleepers Wake,” written by Johann S. Bach; “Radetzky March,” penned by Johann Strauss; “Symphony No. 41 in C Major,” composed by Wolfgang A. Mozart; and “Arlington Sketches,” authored by Elliot De Borgo.
In cooperation with the Cecil County Arts Council, the NCSO is the “brainchild” of Fritts, who founded the orchestra in April and then started holding auditions, according to a CCAC spokeswoman.
Of the 23 current NCSO members, 15 make up the string orchestra. One of those members is Edward Rosen-Wallberg, who, in addition to performing as a violinist, serves as the orchestra’s assistant director. Rosen-Wallberg also is a music teacher at Tome School in North East.
Rosen-Wallberg served as conductor on four compositions performed that night by the full NCSO orchestra, which includes the remaining eight members, who play brass, woodwinds and percussion.
During the concert, Fritts, who retired from Cecil County Public Schools in 2014 after serving more than 17 years as the school system’s coordinator for fine arts, conducted the string orchestra on three compositions.
He also directed the full orchestra on two more pieces, including the show-ending “Christmas Sing-A-Long,” a medley of holiday season music in which the invited audience sang to the music and, appropriately, Fritts sported a Santa Claus cap.
During his music-education career, which spanned 40 years and put him in schools in West Virginia and Maryland, Fritts started three community orchestras, including the fledgling NCSO, which is approximately eight months old.
(It is noteworthy that music teachers in the CCPS system did not teach violin, cello or any other stringed instruments, aside from perhaps standup bass, until 1996, which marks the birth of orchestras in public schools here. The creation of school orchestras occurred while Fritts’ was working in CCPS’s central office, serving as coordinator of fine arts.)
Now Fritts is pushing to expand the NCSO, which compliments the Upper Chesapeake Community Band and the Elkton Town Band, both of which are comprised of adults and children, too.
“Many counties in Maryland have a community orchestra,” Fritts said. “We live in a cultural society, and this (the NCSO) provides another cultural component.”
The NCSO holds auditions on the first Saturday of every month at the Cecil County Arts Council at 135 E. Main St. in Elkton. Every person who auditions is asked to perform two compositions of his or her choosing, as long as one is “brisk” and the other is “expressive,” and two scales that he or she also may select. In addition, the person must perform a sight-reading.
“Our mission is to provide a program to serve Cecil, Harford and Kent Counties, as well as the bordering Pennsylvania and Delaware regions. We want to provide an orchestral experience for middle school students through adults,” Fritts explained.
Fritts told the Cecil Whig that the NCSO plans to give a free public concert in March and again in June. In the meantime, Fritts will continue to hold rehearsals and auditions and he, Rosen-Wallberg and CCAC members will continue to raise awareness of the NCSO and of the opportunity it provides for area musicians.